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What is a Wingman?

  • Published
  • By Col. Jeannine Ryder
  • 386th Expeditionary Medical Group
Wingman - a title used over and over again throughout the Air Force. After a little research, I found the AF has 27 posters depicting messages on the Wingman concept. Most communicate that an individual's responsibility is to find a Wingman and keep them informed of their current life situation. I have another theory - each of us should be proactive and ensure our teammates have one individual they feel has their best interests at heart, a person who will support them with zero judgment. Qualifications of a Wingman:

1. Approachable - ability to be open, a friendly face or "cheerleader"

2. Good Listener - ability to let people vent, express their feelings and know when listening is all the person needs

3. Honest - ability to be a straight shooter; doesn't give the individual what they want, gives them what they need, knows the difference between the two

4. Time - ability and willingness to give someone your time

5. Perceptive - ability to know when someone needs undivided attention because something is going on in their life that may possibly be overwhelming or stressful

6. Discernment - ability to know when to gently nudge or shove an individual to professional help or a supervisor if necessary

7. Gut Feeling - ability to know when the needs of this person are beyond your capability and a higher authority/expert needs to be notified

8. Trustworthy - ability to be a confidant, words spoken between you are not to be shared

Rank is not the decider of who will be a Wingman. During my squadron command, something emotionally traumatic happened in my life. It truly knocked me to my knees for two weeks. I prided myself on keeping my emotions in check and leading with consistency. I could not keep that standard. I gave my leadership team a low-level awareness about my situation (no specifics). I apologized if my emotions or actions were out of the ordinary and I gave them permission to openly get me back to "reality" if necessary. My superintendent, Master Sgt. Dan Wilson (now retired), truly was my Wingman during this difficult time. He was loyal, honest and kept me on task for those very cloudy two weeks. I did not choose him. I planned to suffer in silence to the best of my ability. Dan pretty much stormed in and said, "Let me help you." I am forever grateful he did because I was in desperate need of a Wingman.

You have to ask yourself are you the cliché Wingman that the AF banters about almost every day or a REAL Wingman and ready to answer the call. Just because you want to be a Wingman does not make you a Wingman. A Wingman must show the characteristics listed above on a consistent basis in order for an individual to believe and trust them. Be ready because there is someone out there who needs a Wingman to be the trusted friend and confidant, who will help get them to the other side of a bad situation.